In high profile court cases we hear news broadcasters and tabloid TV talking heads talk about “star witnesses.” Because of the pervasiveness of all types of media today, someone who we’ve never heard about suddenly becomes a very public figure. The most high profile case I can remember during my lifetime happened twenty years ago during the O.J. Simpson trial. All of the tabloid TV outlets were present, star witnesses for both sides were on the evening news every day for what seemed like months. It was then that I learned that a star witness is not someone of great notoriety or widespread fame, but a star witness is someone who holds valuable information either for the defense or prosecution.
Last week we began reading and taking a look at John 5:31-47. In these verses Jesus put Himself on trial and presented His witnesses before His accusers. If you were here last week then you will remember that Jesus first presented the witness of John the Baptist, the one who came to prepare the way for the Lord. John never held himself out to be anything other than a voice that came to announce the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said John was a “lamp” that pointed to the Light of the world, Jesus, our Savior.
The second witness Jesus presented was His body of work, His works. Jesus said that His second witness, His works, are “testimony weightier than that of John.” (vs. 36) The reason Jesus’ second witness is weightier is because everything Jesus did was work given to Him by His Father to do. Jesus perfectly lived out the Father’s will for Him.
Today, Jesus will present His third and final witness, the star witness, the witness that will take the stand and make Jesus’ claims an open and shut case. Once the star witness testifies then everyone will know that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, the Reconciler of those who are separated from God, the Judge of all humanity, and the Voice that will one day raise the dead. Let’s read our Scripture for today and we’ll begin.
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true. 33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. 36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish–the very works that I am doing–testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:31-47 NIV)
Let’s begin our study this morning in verse 39 where Jesus tells the religious leaders that He is fully aware of their diligent study of Scripture. The most well known religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, knew Scripture; they knew the Hebrew Bible better than the vast majority of people in our day. They meticulously studied not only the Written Law, what we know as the Old Testament, but also the Oral Law, or interpretations of Scripture as well. The Oral Law consisted of the “how to” of living out the Scriptures. So, the Pharisees could not only quote what the Scriptures said, but they could follow that up by quoting the traditions of their teachers from times past to help them apply the Scripture to daily life. The diligence of the Jewish religious leaders was commendable, but the problem that Jesus so often pointed out to them was that they were arrogant, hypocritical, and their study of Scripture was simply to gain honor among people. In Matthew 23:2-7, Jesus said,
2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. (Matthew 23:2-7 NIV)
The scribes were another group of religious leaders who actually began with Ezra when the exiles came back from Babylon. In Ezra 7:6, we read that Ezra was both a scribe and a priest. The scribe’s main job was to teach the Scriptures to the people and to copy the Hebrew Scriptures. The scribes were experts in copying Scripture because they followed meticulous rules in doing so. Those who followed Ezra developed rigid rules to follow to ensure the precision of the copies. For example, the synagogue scroll must be written on the skins of clean animals, the length of each column must not be less than 48 or more than 60 lines. No word or letter, not even a “yod,” the smallest stroke of the Hebrew alphabet, could be written from memory. The scribes were not allowed to copy lines or words, but they had to copy every single letter. Between every letter there must be the space of a hair or thread and between every book copied there had to be three lines. After each page was copied another scribe would check it. A third person would check to see that the middle word on the page was the same as that which was copied. The process was so precise they could find the exact middle of a book simply by letter count. If a single error was found, the entire manuscript was destroyed to make sure that it could never be used as a master copy in the future. Meticulous, precise, thorough and yet the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were condemned by Jesus because, as He said,
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)
Doesn’t it amaze you? Don’t Jesus’ words make you wonder, “How can you study the Bible diligently and not see Jesus clearly?” That is an important question and we’ll get to it, but first I want us to understand just how puzzling a statement Jesus made when He said, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me…” I would venture to say that if you asked 100 people what Jesus meant by that statement, what Scriptures He was talking about, the majority would say, “The Bible.” Jesus wasn’t talking about the 66 books of the Bible; He was referring to the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. You and I know that Malachi is the 39th book of the Old Testament, but it’s not the last book written in the Old Testament, that would be Ezra/Nehemiah, which was written shortly after Malachi, about 424-400 B.C. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are two separate books in our Bible, but in the Hebrew Bible they are one book. So, the last of the Old Testament books written, was written about 400 years before Jesus was born. Do you now understand why I said that Jesus’ statement was confounding, confusing, and perplexing to those who heard it? It’s no less perplexing to most people in our day. Let me share with you something even more startling.
Jesus wasn’t finished perplexing His audience. Just a few verses later in John 5, Jesus said something even more puzzling. In John 5:45-47, He says,
45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:45-47 NIV)
Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (vs 46) Moses wrote about Jesus? If that is true, then Moses wrote about Jesus more than 1300 years before Jesus was born! What Jesus is making very clear to His accusers is that even though they reject Him as the Messiah, His star witness, their Scriptures, testify to the validity of His claims. Let me show you what Jesus was talking about.
If you will turn to Matthew 26 with me. Let me set the scene for you. Judas had betrayed Jesus, a large group of men came out to the Garden of Gethsemane with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus, and Peter pulled out his sword to defend Jesus. Jesus turned to Peter and in Matthew 26:52-54 we read,
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54 NIV)
Jesus let Peter know that He really didn’t need Peter’s help. He could more than defend Himself if it weren’t for one thing: if He defended Himself how would the Scriptures be fulfilled?
Just this past Wednesday night in Bible study we read Isaiah 53. The chapter is a description of the Suffering Servant, an unnamed Suffering Servant, but looking back from our vantage point it is undeniably about Jesus. Let me just read one verse from Isaiah 53 to you.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)
And He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that He took on Himself brought us peace with God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, written more than 700 years before Jesus was ever born. Let’s take a look at another example.
Let’s turn to Luke 24:25-27. Let me give you a little background while you are turning there. Jesus had died on the Cross, He was buried, and on the third day God raised Him from the dead, but many of His followers were unaware that He was alive. They had heard rumors that some of their friends had seen Jesus, but they hadn’t seen Him. Two of Jesus’ followers were walking on the road to Emmaus one day discussing all that happened when suddenly Jesus joined them on the road, but they didn’t recognize Him. He said, “What are you talking about?” They said, “Have you been living under a rock?” Then they went on to tell Him about what had happened. They also told Him that some of the women had gone to the tomb on the third day and found it empty; an angel had appeared to them and told them Jesus was alive, but they didn’t see Him. Then Jesus spoke up.
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)
Did you hear that? Jesus used Moses and what the Prophets said about Him in the Scriptures to explain to them everything that had happened to Him. What had happened to Him was His Father’s perfect will. As we read the Old Testament we are reading about and seeing the promises of God to send a Deliverer, the Promised Messiah. Pastor Spurgeon wrote this beautiful paragraph about Jesus, the Alpha and Omega of the Bible.
In a much broader sense, the books and writers of the Bible point to the person and power of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the Bible. He is the constant theme of its sacred pages. From first to last, they testify of Him. At the creation, we discern Him as one of the sacred Trinity. We catch a glimpse of Him in the promise of the woman’s seed. We see Him typified in the ark of Noah. We walk with Abraham as he sees the Messiah’s day. We dwell in the tents of Isaac and Jacob, feeding upon the gracious promise. We hear the venerable Israel talking of Shiloh. In the numerous types of the Tabernacle and its sacrificial law, we find the Redeemer foreshadowed. The Prophets, kings, priests, and preachers all look to Jesus though dimly as through a veil. They stand as the cherubs did over the Ark of the Covenant, desiring to look within and read the mystery of God’s great redemption of man. In the New Testament, our Lord is the one pervading subject. The whole substance of the New Testament is Jesus crucified. Even its closing sentence is bejeweled with the Redeemer’s name. We should always read Scripture in this light. We should consider the Word to be as a window through which we see Jesus. His likeness is dim, but it is still a blessed preparation for when we will see Him face to face. The Bible contains Jesus Christ’s love letters to us. The Scriptures are the swaddling bands of the holy child Jesus. Unroll them and you find your Savior. The essence of the Word of God is Christ. ( Charles H. Spurgeon)
“The essence of the Word of God is Christ.” Jesus was right when He told the religious leaders that the Scriptures testified about Him. Jesus’ followers also used the Scriptures to witness to those who didn’t believe. We read that during the many travels of the Apostle Paul, it was his custom to go to the synagogue and share the Scriptures with the Jews about Jesus. Take a look at Acts 17:1-3 with me.
1 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. (Acts 17:1-3 NIV)
When Paul went to the Jewish synagogues to testify about Jesus, He used their Scriptures to show them that Jesus is the fulfillment of every description of the Messiah found in Scripture. Paul not only used the Old Testament with the Jews, He also used it with the followers of Jesus. When he wrote to the folks in Corinth, Paul said,
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:1-6 NIV)
“According to the Scriptures.” Over and over again what we find in Jesus is “according to the Scriptures.” The Scriptures are Jesus’ star witness. They are more lasting than any human testimony and they are more certain than any miracle. There is a great illustration of this found in 2 Peter 1 that I would like to share with you. Peter says that he and others were eye witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, they heard the voice that came from heaven that said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then, in 2 Peter 1:18-21, Peter writes,
18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:18-21 NIV)
Peter says, “We were eye witnesses, we heard the voice, but you have something completely reliable and that is the prophetic message, the Scriptures.” This past week I’ve run into some Bible teachers who say that the phrase “prophetic message” is something different than Scripture. This is why it is so important to study Scripture in its context. Peter is contrasting the prophecies of the false prophets with the prophetic message of Scripture which points to Jesus and which is reliable.
Why is Scripture a more reliable witness? Simply put, Scripture is God’s Word. That is why Peter said that Scripture does not originate in man, but it came from the Holy Spirit who worked through human agents like Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, and John. I want you to think about something with me for a minute. People can be unreliable witnesses. They may be adored by the crowds, have “successful” ministries, but be unreliable witnesses. Jim Bakker comes to mind. He and his wife had a huge ministry; the PTL Network drew people from all over the nation and world. People were attracted to his “health, wealth, and prosperity” message. Years later, after Jim was released from prison, he wrote a book called, “I Was Wrong.” What was he wrong about? Jim says, “I was wrong about the idea that God wants Christians to rich and wealthy.” He was sincere, but sincerely wrong.
God’s Word is never wrong. Now, that leads me back to the question concerning how can someone study the Scriptures so diligently and not see Jesus clearly? The problem the religious leaders had was at least two-fold. First, remember the Oral and Written Law that we talked about? The Oral Law and traditions of their elders were viewed as equal to the Written Law. An example of this is found in Mark 7:13. Jesus said,
13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:13 NIV)
The Reformers talked about “sola scriptura,” a Latin phrase which means, “Scripture alone.” This was not the case with Jesus’ accusers. Their commentaries were studied more than Scripture, the traditions of their elders were placed right next to Scripture. I was thinking about this during the week. I know so many people who love to read books by their favorite Bible teacher or preacher. They spend more time reading Beth Moore, John MacArthur, Rick Warren, Sarah Young, or Max Lucado than they do reading the Bible. There is nothing wrong with any of these Bible teachers. They are excellent writers, but what they have written is not Scripture. We need to spend more time in God’s Word than we spend reading anything else.
There was a second problem with the religious leaders that led to their missing Jesus even though they diligently studied the Scriptures that testified about Him. They were not humble before the Scriptures. They were arrogant know-it-alls who had convinced themselves that they knew everything there was to know. This mindset is a very real problem that still exists in our day. The more I learn the more vulnerable I am to becoming puffed up, arrogant, and unwilling to listen to anyone else. I can remember when I left Plano and Dr. Darnell was sharing some wisdom with me about how to prepare sermons each week. He said, “Humble yourself before the Text. Don’t bring to God’s Word what you think it means. Let God teach you as you study and pray.”
You can know the Bible by heart, quote whole books of the Bible, and yet refuse to come to Jesus. That is precisely what happened to the religious leaders. They knew God’s Word, but they didn’t know Jesus. How about you? Do you know Him? Have you surrendered your heart to Jesus? Won’t you invite Him this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 9, 2014